/ CALL US + 44 (0) 20 3873 0260
  • 4531_SmartTransit_2019_Banner_728x90
  • 180731_BU_EB_1802_unife-wrms_728x90

Railroads and unions again clash on the issue of two-person crews.

Posted by Luke Upton on Jul 28, 2016

CSX 5457 GE ES44DC (Evolution Series, 4400 Horse Power, Direct Current traction)The debate over two-person crews for freight railroads in the USA is rumbling on with the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and a clutch of Class-I’s telling a hearing in Washington that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) should withdraw its mandate supporting the rule. Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the AAR described the rule as “a textbook example of unnecessary regulation.”

Labour unions however support the rule, with Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO stating that “it’s time to put to rest the absurd notion that operating a 19,000-ton freight train with a single crewmember is safe.”

In March 2016, the FRA filed a notice proposing a new rule requiring; “A minimum requirement of two crewmembers is proposed for all railroad operations, with exceptions proposed for those operations that FRA believes do not pose significant safety risks to railroad employees, the general public.This proposed rule would also establish minimum requirements for the roles and responsibilities of the second train crewmember on a moving train, and promote safe and effective teamwork." 

"For the freight rail industry, there is no greater priority than safety, but there are no data supporting this proposed rule and it will provide no safety benefit to railroads, their employees, or the public," said Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the AAR ( @AAR_FreightRail ), in his testimony.  "With no data showing that one-person operations compromise safety, there is no basis — other than anecdotal storytelling — for enacting a general prohibition on crew size reductions.

"The proposed rule is a textbook example of unnecessary regulation. In fact, while perhaps well-intentioned, the proposed rule is actually misguided and will undermine the very goal of both the FRA ( @USDOTFRA ) and the freight rail industry – making a safe rail network even safer."

Hamberger added: "While the Department of Transportation is throwing its full support behind development of autonomous vehicles as a way to improve safety on our roadways, it is backing a rulemaking for the rail industry that goes in the opposite direction and would freeze rail productivity and chill innovation."


"We have said time and time again that the FRA should conduct a fact-based - not emotionally driven - data-gathering process," Hamberger (pictured left) said. "If a safety risk is identified, then rulemaking might be appropriate. But we are confident that an independent, objective analysis will conclude that no regulation is needed." Hamberger pointed out that Oliver Wyman ( @OliverWyman ), a leading global management consulting firm with worldwide expertise in railroad operations, provided the FRA with an analysis of data on single-crew rail operations around the world that proves railroads can safely operate with one-person crews, and have been doing so for years.

Cindy Sanborn of CSX Transportation ( @CSX ) told FRA representatives that the railroad industry has negotiated numerous reductions in crew size with its employees in the past, and the evidence shows that such reductions have been accomplished with continuous safety improvement. She noted that during the period of time that the industry's injury and accident rates have declined to record lows, crew sizes have been reduced.

For more on rail issues in the USA and hear from agencies including LA Metro, WMATA, NYCT, CATS, Amtrak, BART and many more SmartTansit 2016 is taking place in October in New Jersey

In his testimony, David Brown of Genesee & Wyoming Inc. similarly noted that railroads throughout Europe and Australia have for years been safely operating with one person in the locomotive cab. Brown said that for 34 years he has been involved in the transition of crew size from as many as six crew members down to the one-person crews that now comprise the vast majority of train crews in the U.K. and Europe and other operations in the United States and Australia. During that time, Brown noted, rail safety performance has continuously and dramatically improved.

In contrast to this transportation unions also appeared at the hearing urged the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to complete the new federal rule this year barring one-person freight network train crew operations.

Edward Wytkind ( @EdWytkind ), president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO ( @TTDAFLCIO ), joined John Risch, national legislative director of the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD), at the hearing to make the case for a two-person crew mandate and a final rule that closes loopholes permitting freight railroads to deploy single crew operations.


“It’s time to put to rest the absurd notion that operating a 19,000-ton freight train with a single crewmember is safe,” Edward Wytkind (pictured right) said. “The American public understands that having massive freight trains travel through their communities operated by one-person crews is a safety menace that should be barred by our government. We need a strong rule from the FRA mandating a certified conductor and certified engineer on all freight trains, and we need it this year.”

John Risch who worked as a freight engineer for 30 years, also argued for a two-person crew mandate; “Operating a freight train isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a complex task that requires at least two skilled, qualified individuals. Conductors and engineers rely on each other to make sure operating procedures are completed correctly and safely. Their teamwork is vital not only to their safety, but the public’s safety.”

The FRA’s proposed rule represents a strong step forward, but it provides too much leeway for the railroads to evade the two-person mandate. And because the proposal does not specify that crew members be a certified engineer and conductor, the final rule should be stengthend said the Union men.

Wytkind and Risch were joined by SMART-TD member and BNSF conductor Mike Rankin, who shared a personal story about how he and an engineer were able to work together to help save a life after their locomotive collided with a vehicle.

“Ensuring that all freight trains are operated by two qualified crewmembers is about public safety,” Rankin told the FRA. “Conductors and engineers don’t just operate trains. In emergency situations, we’re first on the scene. Our presence and teamwork can mean the difference between life and death.”

Transportation labor has long advocated for strong federal minimum crew requirements and a recent survey showed the vast majority of Americans agree with this , across 11 surveys 86 percent support two-person crew legislation, with only 10 percent in opposition.

SmartRail World will keep you up to date on the latest developments on this issue.

Interested in rail safety, then you may also be interested in....

The PTC deaEnsuring Safety and Security on the US transit network.dline extension: the industry verdict.

The new tech solutions maintaining safety in a changing rail industry.

How US State DOTs are using drones to improve safety, collect data and cut costs

PTC, safety oversight & tank car change are all 'Most Wanted' by NTSB.

SmartRail Speaks: Chairman Christopher Hart, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Topics: Rolling Stock

Luke Upton

Written by Luke Upton

Get The Latest Updates From SmartRail World

Please use the form below to leave a comment about this story.